Shawna Mills – Creating Violator Union

Shawna MillsThe first time I interviewed Shawna Mills was back in October 2011, where we talked about her work with Titmouse, her feature in Black Comix, and how she used to hate animation, that is before she developed one of the freshest styles this side of moving line work (my words, not hers). This time around, Shawna has created a crowd-funding campaign for her personal comic book creation, something many artistic years in the making: Violator Union.

VU is a tale of four reckless criminals and their dog who fight, murder, and steal, becoming a prime target for the government as they try to find their way to a rumored paradise. I promise you that VU is one of the most eccentric, and truly creative properties you’ll currently have the chance to lay your eyes on. So likewise, the stage for the characters has to be just as crazy. VU can be summed up in one question: What if the power to destroy or change the world was given to irrational criminals?

“I knew I didn’t want good guy protagonists,” Shawna says when I asked her about VU’s tagline. “I didn’t want aliens or magical super mutants. I wanted villains.” The choice to use a group of villains as the main characters in the story may not be entirely unique, but it’s definitely rare and a well thought out choice for the creative direction she is taking with VU.

“The characters sort of come from my own desires and multiple personas,” Shawna goes on to explain. “My mind is not a bad or violent place, but IViolator Union wish to find justice and humanity in places, so I create the world those things can come true in.”

I found it interesting that humanity and justice were Shawna’s choice of words to describe the development of VU’s universe, because at first glance the Violators don’t even sound like they know what those terms mean. But like any well-developed characters, there’s always something under the surface. Shawna admits that underneath it all, the Violators are just “lost souls.”

“Well, I feel that, like you and I, they are works in progress,” Shawna says when I asked her to clarify. “But unlike you and I, they lack empathy and morale. They want to have something that makes them human, but find it difficult realizing it. And like so many lost souls in our real world, they turn to escaping in violent, criminal, and cold ways. They don’t naturally know how to find their way to paradise.”

So, let’s run this down: cold-hearted criminals (check), being chased by the government (check), trying to find paradise (check). Also, super powers (check). Also, they have a dog (double-check). How can you NOT love that idea? You know you do.

But execution is everything, and Shawna is determined to put out a quality product as evidenced by some of the preview pages she has already released through her campaign. Vivid and wild, the pages are everything you would expect from Shawna’s bold and creative style, matching the energy of the animation perfectly. I asked her whether she envisioned the comic book or the animation first, and her answer was simple:

Violator Union Comic Page Sample“I didn’t envision either one coming first. I do what feels great.”

She reflects on old Violator Union pages she created back in the days as she continues, “I looked at them and laughed at how much I’ve grown as an artist and writer,” Shawna says, her excitement showing through despite the humor she finds in her old work. “I want to do it all right now. Everything! The only inconvenience is that I am one person.”

She admits that there has been stress in juggling the creation of Violator Union with her other obligations. “I hide the stress behind sarcasm and a nonchalant smile. If you’ve ever met me and I’m all smiles with half moon eyes, you are in the company of a stressed out Mills,” she says. “But a friend has shown me a bit of a new release. Dance. I dance while at work. And back massages.” At this point I can only imagine she’s sitting on a throne with an evil smile as only the sexiest of men gather at her feet. “I’m really happy about that. Mama needs her back massaged daily.”

While the process has not been without its ups and downs (and apparently dubious amounts of back massages), Shawna is keen on making Violator Union a name to remember. She’s ready to take over, starting with the comic book and perhaps a full animation on the horizon.

“I want this to be my first of many properties. I want merchandise, games, comics, endorsements, cereals and food snacks. I want cameos in music videos and anything I can think of. I have been working hard on creating content and that won’t stop.”

The potential marketability of Violator Union is definitely there, and it’s something that’s not easily forgotten once you see it. But according to Violator UnionShawna, it’s actually some of you guys out there in the artistic community who influenced her decision to finally bring VU to the world.

“I’ve been on VU since my second year of high school. When i started making a move on it being out there, it was more of a thing that was inspired by the online art community,” Shawna says. “Deviant Art. The beautiful and supportive artists there had been watching my illustrations and I grew the characters openly. People became interested, and I started dreaming bigger.”

And now, she’s on her way to really bringing VU to life. The journey has been fruitful in more ways than one. “Two years ago, I wasn’t in this place. Personally, I’ve grown more serious and no-nonsense about everything. I’ve become way more of a woman if I may say so myself. Still much to grow on, but I see my progress. Becoming more confident. I’m proud of myself. I should also mention that I’ve been meeting some really outstanding people and I feel like they are a part of my own growth.”

Shawna is humble, and her potential is boundless. Already receiving recognition from artists like LeSean Thomas (of Boondocks, The Legend of Korra, and Cannon Busters fame), she is well on her way to achieving all the goals she has been striving for. If you guys support any crowd funding campaign in your life, it should be this one. I’m not trying to sound like a PSA or a campaign billboard for a presidential candidate, but I don’t think you need me to ask you to support this KickStarter to see the potential in its creation. The evidence is there for you to check out for yourself. If you can, help spread the word, and make sure you follow Shawna at the links below.

Until next time!

-Kia

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Violator Union Promo

KickStarter:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lazymills/violator-union-graphic-novel?ref=activity

Facebook:  

https://www.facebook.com/ViolatorUnion?fref=ts

Web:

http://lazymills.com/

The legal stuff: Violator Union and all respective characters are © Shawna Mills.  This article was written by Takeia Dunlop exclusively for Spraypaintandinkpens.com. You can link to this article as much as you want, as long as you don’t claim it as your own.

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Review – Thrash: Rise of Shidou

You might remember a while ago when I interviewed California-native comic book artist and animator, Matt Johnson (and if you don’t, feel free to get familiar). It’s been close to a year since then and, as promised, Matt has delivered the pilot issue of his creator-owned series, Thrash: Rise of Shidou, co-written by CJ Airline who was a big part of the story’s development. Matt has been hard at work, producing the comic solo on the artistic side of things. He gave me the opportunity to read and even critique it, before presenting my official review to you guys. So here it is, my totally unbiased opinion:

It’s good.

Without giving too much away, we learn that Thrash is a mysterious warrior haunted by a past steeped in bloodshed and death. This is an introduction to the path that Thrash walks, the world he comes from, and the eery foreshadowing sense that the torment of his past is going to set the tone for the future of every character he crosses. Story-wise, I’m hoping to learn more about the relationship between characters like Lord Baccamus and Secca, since this issue only lightly touches on what is a clear tension between the two of them. Even though this is just the pilot, there’s a lot bubbling under the surface; glimmers of animosity that may make or break some of the characters.

Matt’s heavy animation influence is immediately apparent, from the way his panels are presented to his coloring style. He throws dynamic angles and motion at us when he really wants us to feel the fight scenes, and pulls back during the story-driven scenes. I would love to see the emotion in some of the characters during the “talking” scenes approached with the same dynamic detail and intensity of the action-driven scenes. That being said, Matt does a nice job of setting a uniform mood for the entire book with his color choices, and he makes everything feel like a cinematic shot plucked right out of an animated feature.

Minus some of those things that most comic book creators know are only resolved by continuing to make comics, I think Matt’s debut creator-owned book is a good one. It has good art and a good story going for it, and I know the man works hard with a “never good enough” attitude – which lets me know that every book he puts out will be better than the last.

Plus, I have a thing for super cut warriors with battle scars. So maybe I am biased. A little.

Go pick up the first issue of Thrash: Rise of Shidou on Indy Planet right ‘chea: http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7486

And go be friends with Matt on Facebook and look at his art and stuff. He likes people.
https://www.facebook.com/Myndfury

Until next time.

-Kia

Get To Know Steven Sanchez

It’s amazing how easily a simple statement like “I won’t be posting anything on the blog next week” turns into almost a month of not posting anything. Between taking a trip with the family for Thanksgiving, injuring my back, and catching up on work with clients, a week off turned into something of a missing-in-action hiatus. My picture should have been plastered on the back of a milk carton. And for that, you have my sincerest apologies. Well, until I have to take another break in favor of taking care of life and other things outside this blog, but I promise not to let that happen too often.

So I thought it was only right that I came back with an artist whose work I personally admire, and one many of you might know pretty well: Steven Sanchez. You might recognize him as one essential part of Onixan Productions, along with artists Kermit L. Gonzalez, Scotty Shoemaker, and Noel C. Torres. If you don’t know him, then it’s time to get familiar folks.

“I was around 15 years old when I decided to do this seriously,” Steven says as he reflects on the humble beginnings of his chosen career path as a comic book artist and animator. “Although my bank roll wasn’t big enough to get into an art school like I would’ve liked I invested in comic books when the big tycoon artists at Marvel Comics were running things. Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio and a few other smaller cats… those guys were my biggest influence in comics.” While he continued to admire the work of such near-veterans of the industry, Steven would eventually gravitate towards Japanese animation in favor of his current anime influenced style.

Fast forward one year shy of the turn of the millennium, and he would already be stacking the building blocks of Onixan’s future presence in the industry. “I began in 1999 doing Onixan after a few failed attempts at upstarting with other people,” he explains. “I wanted to run things myself from that point on and Onixan was born.” Five years later, Steven would meet Kermit L. Gonzalez and Scotty Shoemaker, and as if by some weird movie cliché the hands of fate would start to turn. The catalyst that almost literally held the current manifestation of Onixan in the palm of it’s hands was one of the mega-est of comic book conventions – the Orlando Mega Con in Florida.

“Kermit was a spectator just going to the shows for fun and had commissioned me to do a piece. I didn’t finish it but he didn’t live too far away so he picked it up. After that we’d be stuck ever since,” Steven says with a smile. “Scotty Shoemaker knew my works through a mutual friend and we spoke over the phone a few times. Then BAM, it was around 2006 we all met Noel C. Torres at the Florida FX Show. We hooked up and BAM again – Onixan was born with a full cast.”

Ninja 51 is © Onixan Productions. Art by N.C. Torres with colors by Steven Sanchez

And there you have it. Onixan was created with four amazing artists at it’s helm, destined to break industry molds with only their passion, artistic endeavors, and love of their craft to guide them into a Disney-like happy ending complete with singing bluebirds and rainbows. End of story. Roll credits. Right?

“Being in a studio is a true pain in the ass,” Steven laughs.

Cue the record skip.

“I really don’t care about all the B.S. other upstart studios say about it being fun and great and blah blah blah… I don’t want to give an interview here and sugarcoat it by saying all that mess when it’s not. It takes hard work and after that hard work is done add more hard work to that,” Steven says.

But I wasn’t lying when I said all that stuff about their passion and love of their craft guiding them. Oh yeah, add one more thing to the mix: determination.

“Reason why Onixan still exists even without anything out is due to determination,” Steven continues. “What I mean by that is wanting to have a good enough story to merit a good following. Not that we’re trying to be perfectionists, but we’re trying to give quality in order to succeed with something right off the bat. So with each project we do just that. We hash out the acts of the story as a team and collaborate on ideas etc… Just the way a production has to work.” Steven even admits that part of the frustration, however, is just life in general. “Life has a funny way of turning things around so we just work on what we have until we’re done. Yeah, you can say we don’t have any plans for the year or years to come but only time will tell,” he smiles.

Marshmellow Robots created by Scotty Shoemaker with Kermit Gonzalez as writer and Co-creator. © Onixan Productions

Despite the fact that Onixan is still growing in terms of becoming a full-fledged production company, the team is still making their individual creator-owned properties under it’s umbrella including Steven’s own, Armata:

During the fast changing pace of technology the world had come to a most horrifying halt as regions around the Earth were being annihilated all at once! No one had the answers to these actions but something was found through the rubble that would change everything..

Starting off as a funny short, Steven has been working on the project off and on, and it has easily become one of the primary focuses of his art career. “Kermit began doing some write ups and we started to collaborate on the idea but as Scotty entered the picture I told Kermit to aid on his story while I helmed the ship. Shortly I decided to scrap the story and re-do the entire thing. Now I’m currently done with the 2 acts and wrapping up act 3 to finalize,” Steven says on developing the project.

Armata production sketches by Steven Sanchez. © Onixan Productions

“First drafts are always imperative to any project and trying to hit that home run with the first draft is always the dream but sadly revisions must be made to correct holes in the structure. So yes, I constantly keep revisiting my stuff and read it as much as it takes.” Very meticulous when it comes to creating proper story structure and an entertaining plot, Steven is not one for just plowing through. “Plowing through is a very unwise thing to do, I mean the whole point of doing your own project is to succeed, right? If not one’s just gunning for the all mighty dollar and that’s not why I’m in this business after all.”

He also takes the time to really get involved with his characters, an important trait for any writer. “As humans we’re masters of mimicry, from when we can first remember. So putting yourself in other characters’ personalities is the fun part – to become that character and put yourself into situations and figuring out how to come out of them. You see how one can get lost in creating alone.”

Getting lost in your work is arguably one of the best things about being an artist and a creator. It’s like a drug without, you know, stupid side effects like death. So if art is like a drug, then deadlines must be like the weekday afternoon PSA to that drug. It’s like the Agent Smith to the artist’s Neo – it keeps multiplying in insurmountable quantities, but you’re still expected to save the world despite it. “Deadlines are the only obstacle I’ve ever known in this industry and it will always be due to peoples’ demand for commissions and /or comics,” Steven says with what I can only imagine is a hint of disdain. “In the artist world time goes much faster for some odd reason. I guess it’s all due to trying to stay on top of what one does.”

Armata production sketches by Steven Sanchez. © Onixan Productions

The rewards for Steven, however, prove to trump the suffocating pressure of deadlines, and his number one reward is amazingly simple. “Meeting all the cool fans at the conventions and making new friends. Some folks say networking but nah, I don’t care about that. I like to help young artists out in understanding this world and hoping to try and make it a better one. That’s why I’ve released many videos on how I illustrate in hopes for more to learn and get jazzed up to get back into doing more art.”

I think that right there is what drew me to Steven and made me want to write about him. Seriously. He’s one of the most helpful artists you’ll meet, and that’s fast becoming a hard thing to come by in this industry. He even left me with a couple pieces of advice for anyone who is trying to start a creator-owned studio and make it big in comics. “Count your prayers and unleash them all at once and hope it all goes well. A studio is like a small gang and you watch out for one another but at times others begin to lose a bit of faith and things slow down. That’s when all of you have to pull together and kick ASS! Stay confident and full of energy and most importantly, COMMUNICATE!”

He adds, “Many upstarts over think about being great and having fame and fans and frrrrrt…. who cares about that. It’s not Rock N Roll it’s comics for goodness sake! Enjoy the process and draw the best stuff that you think you can do. Confidence has to be your strongest part of you then your art. Know what you want and go for it.” And the last piece of advice he had to offer?

“HAVE FUN!! I can’t stress that enough!”

Told you he was a great guy.

Thanks for reading! Until next time.

-Kia

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Steven Sanchez is a freelance comic book artist, animator, and the founder of Onixan Productions. The team is currently in the process of producing their other creator-owned properties, including Ninja 51, Marshmellow Robots, Armata, and Koga Warriors.  The company has currently revamped its website and is hard at work on two projects and something special for March of next year. Sorry, that’s all I’m allowed to tell you. Don’t want Steven to break my knees. But you can feel free to stay up to date with all of Onixan’s current projects by following their blog and website.

Steven’s DA: http://stevensanchez.deviantart.com

Onixan’s DA: http://onixan.deviantart.com

Onixan’s Website: http://www.onixan.com

Onixan’s Blog: http://www.onixan.blogspot.com/

Introducing Justin Martin

So, let me tell you a story. One day, I signed on to Facebook and was tagged in a note called Freestyle Friday. Justin Martin had previously invited me to drop a couple of raps in a little freestyle session he hosted weekly on his page. I’m not going to say that I’m the heavy weight rap champion of the world, but I had proven that I had skills to people who doubted me because I’m a girl. So when I saw the note, I walked into it with my chest all puffed out thinking, yeah, I got this!

I was the first to drop a few bars. You know, the usual braggadocious flows that you commonly hear in any cypher. Not this one, my friends. I started noticing that people were dropping these sick rhymes about the state of hip hop, the plight of the world, how to make it a better place, the human condition, and the unconditional love of God.

 Uh-oh.

Here I was spitting rhymes probably in the vein of,

my Bic’s a Beretta, I’ll silence u like a Moretta for thinking you can flow better,

The Story of Peter - Art by Earnest Graham, story by Justin Martin

while everyone else is talking about helping his fellow man. I stood out like a sore thumb while crickets chirped in the backdrop of my hubris. This wasn’t your regular, prove how much better you are than the next person type of cypher, but a collaborative one instead. For those of you who might not be into hip hop, I can’t tell you how incredibly easy it is to write a rhyme where all you do is brag about yourself. But to write about something with substance, something that is going to make people think, is infinitely more difficult because it actually requires you to reflect on the root cause of a problem, break it down, and reconstruct it into an interesting rhyme that people can vibe to and at the same time understand.

Justin’s approach to doing away with the self-fulfillment of simply bragging in cyphers, and instead introducing a platform where people could raise pertinent social dilemmas through the art of rhyming, is what made me interested in what he was doing as a writer of Christian-themed comics.

When Justin was young, his father worked on oil rigs in Alaska and was gone for two to three weeks at a time. His mother also worked full-time, so as a result, he spent much of his formative years growing up with his Aunt Dottie. It was she who instilled in him the Christian values and beliefs that would eventually find its way into his writing. However, Justin faces a unique challenge in that, unlike mainstream comics, Christian-themed comics are often disregarded before they are even given a chance.

The Story of Peter - Art by Earnest Graham, story by Justin Martin

“I think when something is labeled ‘Christian’ or ‘religious,’ people tend to conceive of that thing as having certain characteristics. I feel like some of the most common associations with these characteristics are corny, preachy, close-minded, and discriminatory,” Justin explains. “But just as we as Christians need to do a better job of not being close-minded to non-Christians, I think some non-Christians can also do a better job of not lumping all Christians into one stereotypical category, especially the same category as the Christians who historically and to some degree currently tend to judge, ostracize, and harm others in the name of religion.” Justin is doing everything in his power as a writer to not be lumped into that category, while understanding that some of the responsibility will inevitably fall on the readers themselves. This is the approach he has taken while writing his story, Lightweightz, about a group of teenagers who develop a unique set of interpersonal abilities that will test their beliefs, worldviews, and interactions with other characters, for better or for worse.

“The problems they will face stem from me trying to reflect the real world the best way I feel I can at the moment, as I am still growing and working out some things with my own faith,” Justin says on the development of the characters. “On some level, each of the characters will be tested with regards to their faith in humanity, relationships, and themselves.”

Lightweightz is © Justin Martin

Justin hopes to approach the writing of the comic from a character-driven, human point-of-view making it relatable to everyone no matter what their beliefs are. “Regardless of the genre, I think at the end of the day, the connection between the readers and the characters is what gives a story the most potency.” Justin says. “The common ground is the characters, and the things they experience as they try to make sense of themselves, their role in the world, and how to relate to others. And it’s that common ground that I hope my readers will find both relevant to their lives as well as entertaining.”

Lightweightz is © Justin Martin. Art by Przemyslaw Dedelis with colors by Lya Cuello

Justin has admitted that he believes that the biggest challenge in being a creator of Christian-themed comics is not getting boxed into a particular genre or category that would significantly limit the amount of potential readers. “This is actually the main reason why I decided to label my comics Christian-themed as opposed to Christian comics. I believe the former approach better enables me to tell stories that are relevant to all people, regardless of their background or belief system,” he says. The truth is, generally speaking, once people hear any interjection of religion as the central theme of a comic book, it turns many potential readers off. One thing that I sincerely love about Justin’s approach is that he is not trying to spoon-feed anyone his beliefs, but instead approaches his writing from the common experience of the human condition.

Lightweightz is © Justin Martin. Art by Przemyslaw Dedelis with colors by Lya Cuello

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to hide or water down my beliefs, but I’m not going to over-saturate my stories with those beliefs either. If your target includes non-Christians as well, then you have to make sure your stories deal with issues that those readers care about,” Justin says as he reflects on the challenges of being a writer of Christian-themed comic books. “If someone reads my comic and decides to investigate who Jesus is for themselves then great! If not, then hopefully they enjoyed the comic because it was a great story, and addressed issues that they care about. At the end of the day, my goal as a writer is to tell the best stories that I can, and do so from a Christian worldview.”

I’m a pretty simple person. A good story + delicious snacks = a happy Kia. I can tell that Justin really cares about creating and writing comics as a craft, and the fact that his approach is simply to write good stories that anyone can relate to means that he’s already golden in my book.

What more can you ask for?

Thanks for reading, guys. Until next time.

-Kia

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Justin Martin is currently a writer of Christian-themed comic books living in Oakland, California. He is currently working on The Story of Peter with illustrator Earnest Graham and is continuing his own property, Lightweightz. He is also working on a one-shot entitled Hydroland: Aftermath with artist, Mel Todd. You can follow Justin on his blog, where he conducts interviews with independent creators as well.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002500240421&sk=info

Blog: http://rsquaredcomicz.com/

Email: rsquaredcomicz@gmail.com

Twitter: @RsquaredComicz

You can also check out Justin’s full interview with me here.

 

Courtland “Illesigns” Ellis

Courtland “Illesigns” Ellis

What happens when you cross Hip Hop and dope art?

Let’s be real. Somewhere between allowing Shaq to rhyme with Biggie and the epidemic that is auto-tune, Hip Hop started to fall off; some even believe it’s been happening since the late 80s (see Canibus, Poet Laureate II). Personally, I believe Wacka Flocka Flame was sent here Terminator-style to be the end of Hip Hop as we know it. But no matter what you think about the music, there’s no denying that the culture is alive and thriving and influencing everything from fashion, to TV ads, to animation, and even comics. Courtland Ellis is one of those artists whose Hip Hop influence is prominent in everything from his energetic line strokes to his creation of characters that seem to move to their own beat. Plus, he’s a Lupe Fiasco fan and you can’t go wrong with that.

© Courtland Ellis

Courtland credits three things with his artistic evolution growing up: his mom, who taught him how to draw, growing up in Brooklyn, New York, giving his work an undeniable urban feel, and Hip Hop culture. Prior to graduating college, he worked as a graphic designer for Brooklyn Public Library Central and Food & Wine Magazine, but his heart was always in animation. So it’s no surprise that he is currently employed at Postage, Inc., contributing work to it’s sister company, The Fictory. The Fictory is an animation turned multimedia studio out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania founded by Joseph Krzemienski. Krzemienski has won the award for Best Animated Short at the Philadelphia Cinefest among other accolades for his animation American Terror: Company Men, inspired by Jeff McComsey’s graphic novel series, American Terror: Confessions of a Human Smart Bomb. Shortly after, he started The Fictory.

So how did all this play out for Courtland? Well, sometimes being in the right place at the right time has it’s benefits, especially when you end up going to the Hussian School of Art, the same school as the guy you currently work for.

Atomic Robo: Last Stop - Pinup by Courtland Ellis

“Joseph Krzemienski and I each graduated from the same school,” says Courtland on meeting Joseph. “One day he came to the school to show some of the things he had been working on and someone convinced me to show him my sketchbook afterward. The rest is history.”

If by history you mean becoming graphic illustrator for The Fictory’s first iPhone game, Pinball Massacre, penciling one of the company’s web comics, Stabb Gunner, and landing a position as an animator for their latest short in production, Atomic Robo: Last Stop, then yes, history it is.

“My roles on Atomic Robo Last Stop included Key and Tween animator, a colorist at times and the illustrator for promotional art,” says Courtland. “It’s interesting bringing something that has only been seen in still images to life with animation. I myself found the turn around of Robo’s head to be challenging.” But Courtland is just the type of straightforward guy that grits his teeth and gets the work done. “It can be difficult at times to find a balance,” he says of juggling work, freelance projects, and a social life, “but it’s surprising what you can do when you put your mind to it.”

Perfect, when you’re trying to make history.

Stabb Gunner Cover by Courtland Ellis, Stabb Gunner is © The Fictory

And there’s another type of saga being made, one panel at a time: namely Stabb Gunner, one of five weekly rotating web comics from The Fictory Comics, a branch of the main company. With it’s bright colors, reminiscent of graffiti, and engaging line art, Stabb Gunner really shows off what Courtland can do in the comic arena and is a testament to his Hip-Hop influenced style. “It’s great working with Joe. It’s nice to work with some one as out there as me,” says Courtland on their collaboration on the project. “As for the style of the comic, it was something that naturally evolved into what it is. This was the first comic for Joe and I, so it was quite a learning experience and as we grew so did Stabb Gunners Style.”

Style is something that Courtland has tons of but, like any artist, his influences come from…well…other artists.

Stabb Gunner - Art by Courtland Ellis, Stabb Gunner is © The Fictory

His two biggest influences are artists that also seem to have a heavy Hip Hop influence in their style: Lesean Thomas and Shawna Mills. “I consider the two to be opposite sides of the same coin,” says Courtland. “Lesean Thomas is, in a sense, very traditional. He builds his artwork off of life itself. If you pay attention you can see the influences of life drawing in his work yet at the same time see the influence of other things like the hip hop culture, anime and manga.”

Courtland partially credits Shawna Mills as the inspiration behind some of his more eccentric and stylized characters, and often tries to emulate the energy that she portrays in her work. “Shawna Mills is all about expression, exaggeration and stylization,” he says. “Her work tends to be very poppy. Bright colors, hard contrasts, the works. You can really get the sense of stress in her character art’s movement. She also has a slight graffiti feel to her work that makes it perfect for apparel.”

Ten is © Courtland Ellis

Courtland tries to strike a fine harmony between his two greatest artistic influences as he balances his style and creates something that is true to who he is as an artist.

The funny thing about influences is that it makes our artistic world go round. Somewhere, there’s someone saying the same things about Courtland that he said about Lesean Thomas and Shawna Mills, paying forward the influences that can be found in his work.

Still, with all that’s going on in Courtland’s world, I wondered if he even had time for his own projects. “I have many personal projects but maybe only 3 that I am continuously working on,” he says. “I don’t know about soon, but eventually I’ll unveil my own projects. Maybe even as a The Fictory Comic.” Here’s hoping that’s sooner rather than later (hint hint).

And you know, with all this talk about Hip Hop influences, I couldn’t let him get away without asking who his five favorite rappers are. “Lupe Fiasco, Lupe Fiasco, Drake, Kanye, and Jay-Z.” Laughing, he adds, “Yes Lupe Fiasco takes 2 spots because he’s that good!”

I can only disagree with Courtland on one thing: I would’ve given Lupe three.

Thanks for reading, guys. Until next time!

-Kia

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Courtland Ellis is currently working hard as an Illustrator and Animator at The Fictory in Lancaster, PA. He is open for freelance work and can be found at one of these many places online:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CLE2.oh

The Fictory: http://thefictory.com/

Deviant Art: http://cle2.deviantart.com/

Shawn Alleyne

“ Planting Artmada flags on foreign lands with smoking hands. Our light spans, fantastic 4-ever like comic emissions, By the time the beams hit your vision, our past is your present position.. ” – M.D Geist

It was a cold, brisk night in the city of Philadelphia and flurries of snow were already kissing the ground…

Actually, that’s a lie. I really don’t remember what day it was that I met Shawn Alleyne, let alone what the weather was like. I do remember walking near Broad and Chestnut in Philly with another friend of mine (also named Sean) when we bumped into Shawn A. and his wife, Monique. Introductions were given and somewhere along the line I landed at a one year anniversary function for Shawn’s comic book group, Xion. The rest is a blur of comic book conventions, rap battles, and playful insults where, somehow, a friendship was born.

Art by Shawn Alleyne with colors by Ashley Woods

It wasn’t until I saw some of Shawn’s work that I was truly blown away. No, seriously. The pictures I post here do his work no justice until you see it in person, in carefully constructed portfolios with hot piece after hot piece. And don’t think I’m exaggerating just because I want to make this article sound good, or just because I consider Shawn a friend. Actually, I’ll be the first to tell you that he’s more like a friendly nemesis that I happen to talk to on a regular basis. Still, you’ll hear no exaggerations on my part as I share with you the story of Shawn’s life, one that I think will resonate with artists anywhere.

It was a cold, brisk night on the island of Barbados…

Yeah, I don’t know what kind of night it was there either. I do know that Shawn was born, raised, and fell in love with comics there. “My father was the one who got me into comics,” says Shawn. “He used to dabble with art and was the one who sat me down with a Daredevil comic and made me watch him draw.” Clearly, that one moment opened a path that would define the rest of Shawn’s life. Coupled with another, reading his first Spider-man issue, Shawn’s love for comics was destined to grow as he started grabbing any that he could get his hands on.

Art by Shawn Alleyne with colors by Blair Smith

Shawn credits his upbringing in Barbados for giving him a unique range of cultural and economical experiences that he now tries to incorporate into his stories. Shortly after moving to the states with those memories, Shawn knew that he wanted to draw forever. But the reality of the comic book industry haunted him like it did most comic book artists just starting out. “Everyone said there was no money in comics—they said be an architect…a garbage man…ANYTHING besides a comic artist,” Shawn says. “But the glorious days of the late nineties of Image were too alluring, and with everyone and their mother putting a book out, I realized it was specifically comic art I wanted to invest in.”

So what did Shawn do? In an economy that was going straight to hell in a nicely decorated hand basket, Shawn decided to quit his day job and do art full-time. Sound crazy? Not really. What’s crazy is that he’s finding a way to make it work when everyone told him otherwise.

…Not without some pitfalls and hard-learned lessons, though. “It’s been a helluva challenge, and continues to be in some way or another,” Shawn admits. “What people sometimes forget is that this is still a business. So what I had to do to survive was try to learn something new from every experience and adapt.” And he did just that. When Shawn started out, he attended as many conventions as he could, large and small, to get his art out there and network with other people. It didn’t happen overnight, but soon the clients started rolling in and business started to pick up.

Pencils by Stanley Weaver Jr., Inks by Shawn Alleyne, Colors by James Mason

As a result, Shawn currently has an inventory of projects longer than Santa’s naughty list. I asked him if he just curls up in the fetal position every night and cries himself to sleep. The answer is yes. Yes, he does. “But it comes down to learning to say no to some stuff, communicating with clients, long nights, and barreling through,” he says. “All of which I’m still in the process of learning slowly but surely.”

Shawn has admitted to me in many phone conversations that he learns something new after every convention that can help him step his game up as a business-man. He says the biggest challenge about conventions is, “making sure you stick out amongst all the competition that’s out there. There are some really talented people at these shows, especially the bigger ones, and to succeed there has to be that balance of a good product, good marketing, and good people skills.” The biggest piece of advice he has to give to anyone who is just getting started in the convention arena is to be honest with yourself. “If you know in your heart your product may not be ready, don’t go to the shows. Once you’ve passed that hurdle, start with a couple of smaller cons and work your way up. This will help you learn how to work under pressure; learn how to deal with people; seeing firsthand what people like or don’t like; expand your fan base and allow you to build a network with fellow creators. In a nutshell the best way to maximize your potential at these shows is simple: be friendly and draw pretty stuff.”

Art by Shawn Alleyne with colors by James Mason

Pretty good advice, if you ask me, and all pointers he uses as he works on one of his newest properties, Street Team. A “team-up” book that is a collaboration with four other creators, Street Team combines their respective independently published characters into one gritty, urban-vigilante type book in the vein of Batman and Daredevil. Shawn adds his talents as co-writer, editor, and inker on the first book.

He has also worked as Art Director on a property called Knight Seeker with writer Eric Cooper and artist, Blair Smith, as co-creator of Surian Seed with Raheem Mander, and Artmada, a collaborative sketch book with artists Tremaine Worrell, Will Jamaison, and Kamau Mshale.

And I have one more bit of juicy info for you. If you guys didn’t know, Shawn is like a secret underground rap prodigy. When he’s not drawing, he’s eating emcees for brunch. Those bars I inserted as a tag-line under the title of this article? He wrote that, right around the time he was contributing to the Artmada sketchbook. Likening his style to the raw, intricate lyrics of Canibus and the street poet, story-telling abilities of Nas, Shawn is honing his skills in another artistic form besides drawing that is just as ridiculous. I should know. I battled him, lost, and then had to spend the night at his house.

Yeah, it went something like that.

But who knows, I might let you guys in on the upcoming re-match.

Check Shawn out at one of the many links below, and if you’re attending, be sure to check him out at the New York Comic Con (Oct. 13 – 16).

Later folks.

-Kia

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Shawn Alleyne is a freelance illustrator, comic book artist, and self-proclaimed lyrical wordsmith genius. He is currently open for commissions and freelance work. Shawn is also the founder of the Xion Network, a comic book group that started in Philadelphia and has now expanded to New York City (of which I am the branch Co-Manager along with branch Manager, Sha-Nee Williams). To join the mailing list, please contact us at the email listed below.

Shawn’s Personal Information

www.facebook.com/PyroglyphicsStudio

www.pyroglyphics.webs.com

www.shawnah-lean.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/shawnalleyne1

www.pyroglyphics1.deviantart.com

He can also be reached at pyroglyphics1@comcast.net

The Xion Network

Philadelphia Branch: thexiongroup@comcast.net (ATTN: Shawn Alleyne)

NYC Branch: xionnyc5@gmail.com (ATTN: Sha-Nee Williams or Takeia Dunlop)

https://www.facebook.com/TheXionNetwork